In the middle of May, we arrive in Damascus, Virginia, just in time for the largest gathering on the Appalachian Trail - the annual Trail Days festival. A two day hiking break for our family includes checking out gear vendors, lining up for free hiker feeds, and visiting with trail friends. Padawan celebrates her 15th birthday in hiker style with cake and beer (root beer) at the Hyperlite Mountain Gear tent.
Every day on the trail offers unexpected gifts, sometimes very beautiful ones. We discover some of Tennessee's treasures and we deal with our family's first trail "injury", which didn't even happen on the trail.
In claiming that they've built a shoe which works well for both minimalist-style trail running and climbing/scrambling/approach use, Patagonia has set themselves a high bar with the Rover. No other shoe claims the same, likely because there are a number of traits normally considered essential in minimalist running shoes which fundamentally contradict those found in good approach shoes. Patagonia managed to thread the needle and combine those traits, as well as pay attention to fundamentals and make a comfortable and durable shoe which does a lot of things well.
Tenacious bling talks wild flowers, Damien and Renee talk all things feet, and the entire family gets to meet trail angel extraordinaire, Miss Janet and her "bounce box".
Max Patch in North Carolina is one of the renowned "balds" of the southern Appalachians. We hike the bald on a beautiful spring day and share the summit with our hiking friends. The kids answer questions about pack weights, "are your packs heavy?", stream crossings, and hotels in the woods. Our family enjoys a two night stay in Hot Springs, a quaint trail town in North Carolina. Spring's arrival and warmer days brings out both blooming flowers and reptiles. A poignant interview with trail friend and fellow hiker Smokin' Bear helps us appreciate the amazing gift of being on the trail together.
After 166 miles the trail crosses Fontana Dam, the highest dam east of the Rocky Mountains. Immediately after Fontana Dam we enter the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We have heard much about this wilderness gem on the Appalachian Trail. The mountains are beautiful and the park is one the "wildest" places in the southern Appalachian range but the shelter regulations mean lots of hikers crammed together at camp. In the park we meet another thru-hiking family and enjoy hiking with them. We miscalculate the number of days we will be hiking and are thankful for a snack resupply at Standing Bear Farm, just after exiting the park. Geography lessons, an encounter with a bear, sleeping in crowded shelters, making new friends, and beautiful hiking are just a few of the memorable experiences from our Smoky Mountain hike.
In the second week of our hike we cross our first state border from Georgia into North Carolina. No matter where we are on the trail the people we meet are one of the highlights for us. Another highlight is staying with host families - eating home cooked food and playing with other kids. The kids enjoy using technology and having internet access when off trail but Tenacious Bling chooses to send back her iPad because of the weight. Getting a new tent, increasing our daily mileage, and becoming more efficient at camp and town routines are all part of finding our feet on the trail in these first few weeks.
In our first week on the trail we experience Neels Gap, our first resupply out of Unicoi Gap, and a rain storm. One of the tents failed, so we got cozy in our three person tent. The following day, we seek reprieve from the storm with other thru-hikers at a trail shelter and we form friendship in the woods.
We're finally here - Springer Mountain! After months of preparation we settle into the first few days of hiking. We meet up with friends, learn how to deal with heavy packs, and start figuring out our routines for camp chores and cooking.
Meet our video editors, the Johnson Family. The kids explain, with a stop motiom, how we're producing these videos while on the trail - with a lot of help from our fabulous editors. On the day before they start, Damien and Renee talk about pre-hike logistics, food shopping for the trail, and other hike preparations.
How do we manage to take off from life for 6 months to hike in the woods? One way to make this more affordable was to become homeless for our hike, moving our belongings into storage. After doing that we had a long drive, first to Maine, then down to Georgia. Before we even start the trail we have a journey of multiple beginnings.